The Queen has risked an international outcry by inviting the King of Bahrain to a Diamond Jubilee banquet despite widespread criticism of his bloody and repressive regime.
The English-educated Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa is on the guest list for a lunch hosted by the Queen in May at Windsor Castle. He is also thought to be among those invited to a champagne dinner given by Prince Charles the same evening at Buckingham Palace.
The invitations will infuriate human rights campaigners and MPs angry at the Gulf state’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations.
One set of jewels came from the king and another from the prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the king’s uncle. The crown prince gave her a silver and pearl cup and her husband, the Earl of Wessex, received a silk rug.
Continuing unrest on the streets of Bahrain has also led to calls for this month’s Formula 1 race there to be cancelled, with critics including ex-world champion Damon Hill. One protester was shot dead last week when riot police used tear gas and live bullets against demonstrators.
Buckingham Palace aides said yesterday that the King of Bahrain had not yet confirmed that he will attend the Diamond Jubilee lunch, which will take place at Windsor on May 18 and which will be a historic and intimate gathering of crowned heads.
During the Golden Jubilee the Queen hosted a party for the sovereigns of Europe, but this is a much wider gathering of reigning monarchs from around the world.
Palace aides said the luncheon would tie in with the ‘Big Lunch’ theme of the Jubilee celebrations which encourages the British public to organise street meals around the country to celebrate.
Prince Charles has organised a dinner on the same evening at Buckingham Palace as a personal ‘thank you’ to his mother, who will celebrate her 60 years on the Throne with a weekend of celebrations in June.
While the Prince’s dinner is expected to be an elaborate affair, and is likely to be organised by his former valet Michael Fawcett, who now runs a catering business, the Queen’s lunch will be catered ‘in house’ and may be staged in the gardens of Windsor Castle.
Aides said it was the Queen’s idea to host the lunch and she was ‘delighted’ when Prince Charles offered to throw a dinner. It is understood that the reigning heads of Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Andorra, Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands and Norway will all attend the lunch.
Crowned heads from further afield are expected to include the Emperor of Japan, the King of Tonga and rulers from the Middle Eastern kingdoms including President Khalifa bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, the Sultan of Brunei, Sheikh Ahmad Hmoud Al-Sabah of Kuwait and the Emir of Qatar.
It is believed the elderly King of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, has declined the invitation but is sending the crown prince in his place.
The Saudi Arabian royal family has also been criticised for human-rights abuses, as has another invitee, the King of Swaziland, Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch.
A Palace source told The Mail on Sunday: ‘It was the Queen’s decision to host the lunch and her decision to invite every world sovereign. It would have been very rude to have left anyone off the list and the Queen would never want to offend anyone.’
The source added: ‘Charles can’t make the Queen’s luncheon as he and Camilla are on official engagements, but he will be hosting the evening celebrations and he is sparing no expense on the meal, which will all be organic, and the champagne, which will flow all night.’
Bahrain has been battling to restore its international reputation since last year’s violent clashes between security forces and anti-government demonstrators.
In February 2011, 35 people were killed and hundreds wounded in Pearl Square in Bahrain’s capital Manama when security forces used rubber bullets, tear gas, batons and then live ammunition to disperse protesters.
Inspired by revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets demanding greater freedom and democratic reforms. Protesters wanted political prisoners released, more jobs and housing and the removal of the prime minister, who has been in office for 40 years. Tensions between the country’s Sunni elite and the less affluent Shia majority have intensified since Bahrain’s independence from the UK in 1971. Shia groups say they are marginalised, repressed and subjected to unfair laws.
According to reports, since February 2011 scores of demonstrators have been killed and hundreds tortured, while thousands have been dismissed or suspended from their jobs.
At the height of the killings, David Cameron greeted the crown prince at No 10, and between July and September 2011 the Coalition reportedly authorised the sale of £2.2million of arms to the regime.
Bahrain’s rulers have promised to introduce reforms to increase democracy, but campaigners say they have yet to implement them.
Buckingham Palace refused to comment on the guest list last night. A spokesman said: ‘We can’t confirm who has been invited or who has accepted.’
A spokesman for Prince Charles said: ‘We can’t comment on the dinner or any of the guests who may or may not have been invited because we haven’t announced anything yet.’